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A special talkin’, blinkin’, name changin’ and swan boat ridin’ edition of Why For

Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about the special character heads that are used in “Mickey’s Magic Show,” shares what he knows about Disney-MGM’s coming name change as well as taking a fond look back at the Magic Kingdom’s swan boat ride



First up, Roger A. writes in to ask:


We just went to see Disney Live!, the new touring magic show this weekend, and were very impressed that Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Daisy all had mouths that moved in sync and their eyes blinked.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Feld Entertainment

Do you know if there’s any plans to use these impressive new heads in the parks, such as during the parades and stage appearances?



Actually, the Walt Disney Company has had character costumes that are capable of doing the whole mouth-moving-eyes-blinking thing for at least 10 years now.

I remember how — back in October of 1996 — my ex, Shelly Smith, came back from this gala event that the Mouse had held at the Orlando O-rena in honor of WDW’s 25th anniversary. And she was just raving about how — as part of this elaborate indoor pageant — the mouth of the Mickey rubberhead that was featured in this show had moved in perfect synchronization with the dialogue that Wayne Allwine had pre-recorded. Which gave the impression that this walkaround version of Mickey Mouse could really speak.

Mind you, this talking-walkaround-character idea actually dates back to the 1960s. In his wonderful behind-the-scenes-at-the-Mouse-House book, “Justice for Disney,” Disney Legend Bill Justice describes how he experimented with strapping a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder to Disneyland cast members. And on this tape recorder would be pre-recorded dialogue for a particular Disney character. Which (once this Disneyland cast member put on the appropriate costume and then turned on the tape recorder) would give the impression that this walkaround character could actually talk.

Illustration from “Justice For Disney” showing how
Bill Justice would create character costumes for the parks
Copyright 1992 Tomart Publications

Unfortunately, the only character costume that was actually big enough to hide the bulk of a 1960s era portable tape recorder was Brer Bear. So the in-park test for this pre-recorded voice track featured this “Song of the South” character saying things like “Howdy!,” “Have you seen Brer Rabbit?” as well as singing “Zip a Dee Doo Dah.”

Which (admittedly) sounds pretty cool. Unfortunately, due to the weight & the thickness of the Brer  Bear costume, this pre-recorded voice track (even when it was played loud enough to almost deafen the Disneyland cast member who was inside the costume) came through as … Well … muffled. So, basically what you got was — from your up-close-&-personal encounter with this experimental talking-and-singing “Song of the South” character — was the impression that Brer Bear mumbled.

So Bill Justice’s idea was tabled for about the next 20 years. Mind you, the Imagineers would periodically revisit this talking-character concept. And — in the end — the wizards of WED would eventually come up with a working prototype. The only problem was … The technology involved with making this talking/blinking character head work was so delicate that it would repeatedly break down. Which meant that it just wasn’t practical to use these heads on a day-to-day basis in a theme park environment.

Which is why these talking-blinking character heads wound up being reserved for special occasions. Moments when the Mouse really wanted to wow people. Like Disney World’s 25th anniversary gala.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Feld Entertainment

Now as to why this technology is now being used as part of a Feld Entertainment show … Let me be blunt here: The folks at Feld still  pride themselves on putting on a quality show. Which means that they’re willing to spend the money to make sure that these talking-blinking character heads work on a daily basis. That’s why they’ve hired technicians to travel with the “Disney Live! Mickey’s Magic Show” whose only job is to keep these heads in good working order.

Of course, to be fair, Feld only needs these talking-blinking character heads to work for three shows a day. Which is the typical weekend performance schedule for “Mickey’s Magic Show.” On most other days, these heads have to be in good working order for just a single performance, sometimes two-a-day. Which is hardly the sorts of conditions that this technology would be exposed to were these talking-blinking heads to be used at the Disney theme parks.

Still, one hopes that — with the advancements that are made annually in various technical fields — that a sturdy theme-park-friendly version of this talking-blinking-character-head technology will eventually become available. More importantly, affordable.

So hang in there, Roger. You may yet get the chance to chat with Mickey Mouse at your favorite Disney theme park and then have that Mouse talk directly back to you. Here’s hoping that this technical innovation arrives sooner, rather than later.

Next up, Jonathan W. from the U.K. writes in to say:

Jeff M

Just the quickest of quick emails. I know Disney have recently acquired Pixar, but with the pixar studios chruning out great films such as bugs life, nemo, monsters, incredibles, toy story, these films would be fitting for any studio park. We have seen some of these films already turned into rides.

How about Disney changing the Florida park to Disney – Pixar studios, to replace MGM?

Just a random thought and out of all the cool fan sites i follow, thought i was best placed to share it with you.

Jonathon W.

Jonathan —

You wouldn’t happen to be a member of the Psychic Friends Network, would you? The reason I ask is that — just as Mark Goldhaber mentioned in the “Quick Takes” section of his Walt Disney World Park update column over at MousePlanet earlier this week — there have been an awful lot of talk coming out of the studios lately about a possible upcoming name change for that theme park.

Why a name change? More importantly,why now? Well, you have to understand that the Walt Disney Company’s original licensing agreement for use of the MGM name in a theme park setting actually expired last year. On June 27, 2005 to be precise. And given that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer now plans to lend its name to a studio park that will be opening in Busan, South Korea in 2010 … Well, they’d kind of like their name back now.

Sooo … For the past 15 months, Disney has been taking advantage of a grace period that was reportedly built into the original MGM licensing agreement as the Mouse carefully reviewed its options. And given that the company just spent $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar … It seems like sort of like a no-brainer to try & recover some of those costs by rebranding MGM as the Disney-Pixar Studio theme park.

NOT the official new logo for the soon-to-be-renamed theme park
Just a little Photoshop fun by Nancy Stadler

As for a possible timetable for this name change … I’m told that Disney is now looking at the Fall of 2007. With the actual name change supposedly happening on or around October 1st. Which typically is when WDW Press & Publicity holds its annual press event.

Mind you, Disney would allegedly use this same press event to open Disney-MGM’s newest attraction, “Midway Mania.” Which — not-so-co-incidentally — will be themed around characters from the two “Toy Story” films.

And about this same time, a version of Disney’s California Adventure‘s “Block Party Bash” (Which — as Disneyland publicity so aptly describes this street party — ” … stars your Pixar Film Pals”) would reportedly begin rolling through the studio theme park each day. And the characters from “Cars” would supposedly start making cameo appearances in the “Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show.”  With the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” Movie Set Adventure then being rethemed around the characters from “A Bug’s Life.”

So as you can see, over a relatively short period of time (More importantly, not for a huge pile of money), Disney-MGM could quickly become the theme park that every Pixar fan has to visit whenever they vacation at Walt Disney World.  

Ironically, the one man who allegedly has some real reservations about this plan is Pixar’s own John Lasseter. “And why would John Lasseter be against the idea of renaming MGM the Disney-Pixar Studio theme park?,” you ask. Well, the way I hear it, given that — over the next 12 months — Epcot will be opening its newly rethemed “The Seas with Nemo & Friends” pavilion …

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

… And “Finding Nemo — The Musical” will be opening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises

While the Magic Kingdom gets the Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Meanwhile out in California, Disneyland gets the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage while DCA gets its very own version of Midway Mania. And let’s not forget overseas, where Tokyo Disneyland will soon be getting a “Monsters, Inc.” -themed “Hide and Boo Seek” attraction. While Disney Studios Paris will be getting two Pixar-related attractions: the “Cars Race Rally” and “Crush’s Turtle Twister.”

This — in addition to the various Pixar-related shows & attractions that already exist (I.E. The “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” 3D movie at both DCA & Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the interactive “Turtle Talk with Crush” show at both DCA & Epcot, the five versions of “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin” that can be found operating around the globe … Not to mention DCA’s newly opened “Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue” ride as well as “A Bug’s Land)” …


That’s an awful lot of Pixar-related stuff opening at Disney theme parks worldwide over a relatively short period of time. Perhaps too much. Which is why Lasseter has supposedly expressed some concerns about a possible Pixar backlash.

Should this backlash actually occur, WDI’s new Principal Creative Advisor may (at least temporarily) put the kibosh on the whole renaming-MGM-the-Disney-Pixar-Studios-theme-park plan.

But either way, look for a lot of Pixar-related stuff to start popping up over in WDW’s studio theme park over the next few years.

And finally, Natalie R. writes in to ask:


I was just visiting at the Magic Kingdom. And while I was walking around the Hub, I noticed this odd path that meandered down to the moat around Cinderella Castle. Being in an adventurous mood, I followed that path. Which first took me through a sparse looking rose garden before eventually leading me to this green metallic awning over a couple of empty park benches.

Given the amount of time & money that was obviously spent to create this path & awning, I’m sure that there used to be some sort of attraction here. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it could have been.

Could you please clear up this mystery for me?


Actually, what you discovered at the end of that path was the old dock / loading area for the Magic Kingdom’s Plaza Swan Boats. This Main Street U.S.A.-based attraction was in operation (on a seasonal and often-quite-sporadic basis) from May of 1973 through August of 1983.

Copyright 1975 Walt Disney Productions

Obviously, the Swan Boats weren’t a thrill ride. What they offered Disney World visitors instead was a temporary respite from the crush and the crowds at the Magic Kingdom. 26 people at a time could clamber aboard one of these natural-gas-powered vessels. Which would then take these WDW visitors on a leisurely cruise around the center of the park.

Most people think that the Plaza Swan Boats just traveled in a circle, making one quick trip ’round the moat in front of Cinderella Castle. Truth be told, your voyage on the Swan Boats included a side trip into Adventureland. Where you circled the base of the Swiss Family Treehouse before heading back into the heart of the park.

Again, we’re not talking about heart-stopping excitement here. Just a gentle 17-minute-long voyage aboard an old fashioned vessel that was named after one of the three fairies from “Sleeping Beauty.”

In short, the Plaza Swan Boats were charming. But as the 1980s arrived and the Imagineers felt the need to shoehorn more thrill rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain into the Magic Kingdom, there was less & less room for charm in the park. And given the boats were notoriously difficult to maintain & keep in operation … It was really only a matter of time ’til the Plaza Swan Boats were eventually shut down.

All that remains of this Main Street U.S.A. -based attraction is the loading dock. Which nowadays is used for private parties and/or as an extra-special spot to stage an Enchanted Engagement.

Me personally, I wish that the Plaza Swan Boats were still in operation. After all, charm is in pretty short supply in today’s world.

And speaking of things that are in short supply … I’m out of time for this week. So you folks have a great weekend, okay? And (hopefully) we’ll see you all again on Monday morning.


Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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